The Night Beat: Name That Term

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Good evening.

In honor of the new Defense Department guidance on special access programs, an esoteric topic that is really important because it concerns the secrets that government keeps from people, each headline tonight will be fashioned as a SAP nickname. Each "first word" of the nickname is an actual first word that's been used before; at least two of the nicknames below are (or were) real, but I won't tell you which ones. Have fun.

CRUCIAL PLAYER: President Obama tomorrow intends to use his recess appointment authority tomorrow to put Donald Berwick in place as administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid at the Department of Health and Human Services.  Dan Pfeiffer, White House comms director, writes on the White House blog: "....[w]ith the agency facing new responsibilities to protect seniors' care under the Affordable Care Act, there's no time to waste with Washington game-playing. That's why tomorrow the President will use a recess appointment to put Dr. Berwick at the agency's helm and provide strong leadership for the Medicare program without delay."

COPPER AZURE? It's going to be interesting to see how the White House justifies keeping the GAO's nose of CIA secret programs now that the Defense Department has opened to the door to more GAO oversight.

Under the new SAP rules, Congress has more oversight authority, and more members of Congress and staff can access details about secret programs. But in order to do so, according to the new rules, they're going to have to fill out a program access request and undergo a counterintelligence polygraph for EACH SAP they desire access to. The staff director and minority staff director for the defense and intelligence committees can designate other staffers on their committees, exceeding the limit of one that had been previously imposed. Note: the new rule says "defense" and "intelligence" committees. There is no "defense" committee; there are armed services committees and appropriates subcommittees with defense, but unless the existence of a "Senate Defense Committee" is itself classified, there's some confusion here. For "waived" SAPs -- those programs designated as uber-top secret by the SecDef or the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the rules haven't changed. (An example of a waived SAP: the technological capabilities of the USS Jimmy Carter, which does a variety of spooky underseas cable-tapping work for the Navy.) 

Another change: the it's up to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, who has oversight of the SAPs, to give "guidance of employment of force" to the combatant commanders -- the orders of battles, a blow-by-blow of "if this happen, this is how we would respond" automatically. Say Iran tries to counter a blockade, there is a SAP that instructs various combatant commanders how to respond. And now, the USD(P) is the "oversight authority" for those types of things.

A secret about the SAPs: most of the security officers who administer the programs are contractor personnel, something the Secretary of Defense is trying to change.

AGILE ELEPHANT: RNC chairman Michael Steele is still hanging on to his job. He canceled a planned appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival tomorrow; the RNC hasn't said why yet. It's next to impossible for Steele to be be forced out, which is why he is being pressured so heavily to resign. But he has no intention of resigning. Still, the stories are like a death by a thousand cuts. Steele will have virtually no support if he runs for re-election. To watch: whether the RNC starts to give money to the National Republican Congressional Committee to expand the playing field. Whether it reverses its decision to devote less resources to redistricting. Whether it restores money to its field program and microtargeting efforts (states are doing a lot of contracting now to get the level of GOTV targeting they're used to.) A Steele trip to Colorado Republican HQ on Thursday is still on.

ABLE TALENT: It's safe to say that Mitt Romney had some help in crafting his opinion piece on the new START treaty. His staff says that he relied on advice that was "confidential," but  one person he did consult with: former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO), the vice chair of the Commission on WMD proliferation and terrorism. ... The timing of Romney's op-ed is worrisome to supporters of the treaty. With the exception of Sen. James Inhofe, most GOPers have been relatively quiet about it to date; Democrats worry that they're saving their ammunition for the ratification vote debate and have all along intended to kill it, regardless of its merits.  Tomorrow, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry will respond to Romney's op-ed with one of his own.

CRANKY SURVEYOR:  The latest salvo in the ongoing and expanding controversy over polling and standards from John Zogby, who penned an "open letter" to fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver tonight:  "You are a statistician--a very good one but you are not a pollster. You should conduct some polls and learn that the rest of us good pollsters survey people, not statistics. The numbers tell the story; pre-conceived ideologies and fuzzy-math statistical models do not."

SHALE ACCESS: The folks from Resurgent Republic will release new polling tomorrow on oil drilling. RR is the GOP version of Democracy Corps; Whit Ayres, Ed Gillespie, and Leslie Sanchez designed the survey. The following two messages were tested with the sample:

"Congressman A says the Gulf oil spill shows the danger and enormous environmental damage of offshore oil drilling. We should stop any new offshore wells from being developed."

"Congressman B says we should not let one bad accident in the Gulf divert us from the importance of more offshore drilling to create jobs and make us less dependent on foreign oil."

By a 56 to 37 spread, folks sampled prefer the message of Congressman B, according to RR.

ANGRY WIND:  The folks at HuffPost Hill went on a jeremiad against the White House after the New York Times reported over the weekend that the White House economics team favors demand-side stimulus policies and the political side favors an emphasis on deficit reduction.  They drop the phrase "Terry Schiavo."  They coin the term "Mayberry Machiavellis."  And they conclude: "Mayberries have already taken those steps: by using the bully pulpit to highlight deficit fears, by proposing an across-the-board spending freeze, by creating a commission to reduce the deficit and stacking it with hawks, by making it clear to progressive allies that the White House political team believes a deficit-reduction focus is important for the midterm elections."  The polite, contentless White House response was conveyed by spokesman Matt Vogel. The non-polite, private response: "Find us *$#*!& votes for #&$*!# spending, and you can have it."  As a reminder: Obama did call for $50 billion to help shore up state budget deficits a few weeks ago, but he did so in a radio address that was largely ignored. 

BRIEFLY:

-- If you happen to see Attorney General Eric Holder, ask him how quickly (or slowly) he came to believe that a case against Arizona's immigration law was worth his department filing.

-- Tomorrow, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin will discuss the appointment process for Sen. Robert Byrd's successor. He will not name said successor.

-- Whether the good show put on by Netanyahu and Obama today was simply a show or not, Israel seems happy that the White House will not further apply pressure to declare information about or disclose the fact of its nuclear weapons program.

-- The UAE's ambassador to Washington said his country would be OK if Iran's nuclear facilities were bombed.

--  China sent a couple of ships through the Miyako Straight. Japan noticed and issued a statement. China is mad that Japan felt it necessary to issue a statement.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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